Via forbes.com by Monte Burke, Forbes Staff
You have to hand it to Kevin Plank, the 39 year-old founder and CEO of Under Armour: He doesn’t do anything meekly. This afternoon, in a cool, dark warehouse on a 97-degree day in Midtown Manhattan, Plank introduced Under Armour’s latest product, the UA Spine shoe, which will be available to the public on July 9th. Alongside him were three of his star endorsers: the New England Patriots’ Tom Brady, the U.S. Ski Team’s Lindsey Vonn and the Charlotte Bobcats’ Kemba Walker. “This will be our biggest marketing push ever,” Plank said.
Plank likes dramatic products and equally dramatic introductions. Back in 2005 when he was preparing to take the company public, he started every investor presentation the same way: He bolted to the stage, took a Russell Athletic cotton T-shirt and soaked it in a bucket of water. Then he hauled out the heavy, sopping-wet shirt and slapped it on a table.
“Cotton is the enemy,” Plank would growl at the men in suits as he introduced his synthetic sweat-wicking shirts.
Then in 2011, Plank did “a complete about-face” when he introduced Charged Cotton into his line, something he says his customers wanted. Brady figured prominently in the launch of that specially-designed water-repellent cotton.
Brady will figure in this roll-out, too. Plank expects to spend somewhere north of $10 million marketing these new shoes in a campaign that will include print, digital, social media and televised elements. The shoe, which based on the function of the human spine, is designed to be light (9.7 ounces) and flexible. The line of shoes will initially hit the running category, but Plank says baseball, basketball and football shoes are not far behind.
Brady, 34, was introduced by Plank first. He is by far Under Armour’s most heralded athlete to date. Once normal-sized for an NFL quarterback, Brady seems now to be almost slight when compared with the position’s Cam Newtons and Ben Roethlisbergers. He strolled out in jeans and an Under Armour pullover, sporting a boy’s summer haircut, short on the sides and neatly combed on the top. With Brady, Plank nearly pulled a neat double during last year’s NFL season: he signed the number one draft pick (Newton) and was a Wes Welker catch or Tom Brady throw away (depending upon your sympathies) from also boasting the Super Bowl-winning quarterback.
Vonn came on next. The 27 year-old is coming off a season on triumph and sorrow. She won her fourth overall World Cup title this year, but also divorced her husband of four years. Vonn has a particular American kind of beauty: big-boned, apple-cheeked, with blue eyes and blond tresses that fall over her shoulders. She is one of Under Armour’s longest-standing endorsers, since 2006. “I remember when you were talking about hitting the $1 billion mark,” she told Plank.
Then came Kemba Walker, the 22 year-old Charlotte Bobcats rookie and, strangely, only a few inches taller than the 5’ 10” Vonn. Walker talked about being humbled in his rookie NBA season. He went from the Most Outstanding Player of the NCAA national champion University of Connecticut to enduring the single worst season in NBA history with the Bobcats. “I was used to being the best player on the court,” said the soft-spoken Walker. “Then all of a sudden, I’m guarding LeBron James.”
“Who?” Plank said immediately (James is, of course, a Nike guy.)
Plank has created a remarkable company. When he founded Under Armour in 1996, the company had $17,000 in revenues. Last year, it brought in $1.5 billion. That’s still a fraction of Nike’s $20 billion in revenues. But Under Armour keeps pushing. As Plank told me in 2011, “Time is on our side. Last year Nike was 25 times our size. This year they’ll be 20 times our size, next year 17 times. Which math will you bet on?”
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